Visual Rhetoric and a Demo Derby

Perhaps it’s a Redneck sport–but there’s nothing I like more than a good, old-fashioned Demolition Derby. For those who don’t know, a Demo Derby is a car sport in which people take old, beat-up cars, stick an engine in them, and then take those same cars into a ring where they commence smashing into each other until one car remains running, and victorious. As you can imagine, it’s a mainly male-dominated sport. Most (not all, but most) people that find cars and smashing facinating happen to be male. Yet last night at the Colorado State Fair 2013 Demolition Derby, I saw a change.

Not only were women in the running–but out of the four final cars running in the last heat (the one that decided the champion) two were female. You can imagine the pride in my feminist heart. What was even more facinating, however, is how the announcer struggled to rectify this knowledge in his head. Visually and rhetorically, it was utterly facinating.

Part of the competition involves making a certain number of “hits” which keeps you in the running. You don’t want to destroy your car, but you get “black flagged” if you fail to make enough hits within a time limit. The Black Flag rule makes sense. Fail to hit, Black Flag, you lose. There is also a green flag (which means go) and a red flag, (which means stop). No one told us these colors mean anything, but of course all the drivers knew what each of these flags (which are scattered around the perimeter) meant. But there is another facinating flag I’ve failed to mention. The Pink flag is waved at drivers who are “sandbagging” around the arena and are failing to make any good hits. They call it the pink flag, but it also goes by the less flattering name the “panty flag”. The announcer last night (who was a very good announcer, by the way) used this name when the arena was full of male drivers, but struggled, (coughed, fidgited, seemed unsure) when he had to announce that a female driver was being pink flagged. No one told us that pink was a girl color. But all the drivers in the arena knew that when the pink flag was being waved, you’d better go hit something to restore your manhood.

I personally think that the Demo Derby sport could benefit from more female drivers. After all–isn’t the joke that female drivers are “bad?” Does this make us better derby drivers? I’d never thought about the color scheme of something like a demo derby before. But I’m in a visual rhetoric class now. All of that is about to change.


The red car above? Yeah. That’s a chick. And there in the bottom right is the infamous “panty flag.”


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